An introduction to generalized anxiety disorder, and natural ways to manage it

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worrying about a number of different things. While certain symptoms of GAD may appear similar to a phobia, or an extreme and irrational fear to a stimulus, the mental disorder is not a direct response to a specific situation or experience. Patients diagnosed with GAD often report experiencing some level of stress at every moment of their daily lives.

GAD may not be as intense as a panic attack, but it is long-lasting and casts a dull and persistent shadow over people’s lives.


People who suffer from GAD worry about the same things as most people — money, health, relationships, etc. — but have a much higher level of worry that is nearly constant. Mental health professionals have observed that sufferers of GAD display a level of concern that is often not in sync with reality and is greatly exaggerated. Sadly, people with GAD realize that their concerns are overly magnified, but cannot seem to shake their anxiety.

This is an important criterion: GAD patients are aware that their anxiety levels are higher compared to others yet have no idea how to manage them. Moreover, they typically experience shame and embarrassment in acknowledging that they have a problem.

Both children and adults can develop GAD and symptoms may appear gradually. However, a major life event such as a death in the family or car accident may trigger GAD. Symptoms may ebb and flow in the course of a person’s life but can be exacerbated when the patient is stressed. What sets GAD apart from “normal” worry is that the anxiety is intrusive, excessive, debilitating, and persistent — lasting for more than six months.

GAD sufferers may experience difficulty completing everyday tasks.


Most cases of GAD are treated using psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. The most effective form of therapy has been found to be cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which focuses on how a person perceives the world around him or her. By shifting perceptions about certain stress issues, GAD sufferers may alleviate their worry.

Various medications are also prescribed. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically prescribed, due to the hypothesis that GAD is caused by a deficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Data on the efficacy of SSRI in treating GAD is conflicting. Currently, scientists concur that while effective for short-term use, the risk-benefit ratio for longer-term use of these medicines is un-established.

Natural therapies

Natural options are available to healthcare practitioners who wish to utilize alternative medicine. Studies have shown that GAD may be effectively treated, or at least managed, with amino acids and botanicals that correct neurotransmitter imbalances.

  • Lysine and arginine — Studies have shown that supplementing with these nutrients reduced anxiety in both men and women compared to placebo.
  • L-theanine — This amino acid found in tea increases dopamine and serotonin production, subsequently improving mood and reducing GAD symptoms. Furthermore, l-theanine has been shown to generate alpha waves in the central nervous system, resulting in a relaxed yet alert state.
  • Magnesium and vitamin B6 — A double-blind, randomized, controlled crossover trial concluded that magnesium and vitamin B6 reduced premenstrual anxiety and GAD in women. (Related: Why you need magnesium if you’re constantly stressed or anxious.)
  • Omega-3s — These fatty acids positively impact anxiety disorders on many levels, including increasing dopamine binding, improving stress tolerance, and reducing corticol hyper-excitability.
  • Lavender — A review of 15 randomized clinical studies suggests that oral lavender supplements have a therapeutic effect against GAD.

These herbs can assist in symptom management when taken together with appropriate diet and lifestyle changes.

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